PUD proposal gets no vote, lots of bickering
A complicated proposal to convert a resort on a peninsula between Lower Bottle and Emma lakes to a family co-op met opposition at the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, but not for the conversion itself.
It was the circuitous route the proposal is taking through three separate county boards simultaneously, led by Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf that drew fire.
Essentially Buitenwerf asked the Planning Commission July 13 to give the proposal a preliminary thumbs up or down without findings of fact as guidance to the county board; he then asked the county board Wednesday to do the same thing, to let the Board of Adjustment know how commissioners would vote in a final approval or disapproval of the project.
The Board of Adjustment takes up the proposal next month because renovating the existing cabins to livable homes will require a setback variance.
"In this way everyone can make an informed decision on the project," Buitenwerf wrote in his recommendation to the county board.
Objections to the process
Commissioners Don Carlson and Lyle Robinson pounced.
"I think we should table this until we get legal consultation," Carlson said, noting that the county is currently being sued for failing to follow its own procedures in a similar case on Fifth Crow Wing Lake.
"This has never been done before," Carlson protested, declining to be a pioneer.
"To me its backwards," Robinson said. "We shouldn't pass stuff that needs a variance. It's like going to the doctor to get a bill of health without an examination. Wouldn't the (Planning Commission's) findings of fact be the examination?"
The proposal went before the Planning Commission for a conditional use permit to convert it to a residential use Planned Unit Development on July 13. Buitenwerf said it would go before the Board of Adjustment in August for a variance to renovate the cabins, locating them out of the shore impact zone but still within the 100-foot setback.
The county board would have final approval of the PUD, but Robinson said that would not take place while a variance application was pending.
The resort was purchased by Dan and Mary Jeanne Schneeman 40 years ago. Buitenwerf said it should probably have undergone a transformation into residential property at the time, as it was no longer used as a resort.
"They've run it like this 40 years and want to make it better," said commissioner Dick Devine. "Are we gonna disagree?"
"We're just looking at this conceptually," commissioner Greg Larson said. "All they're doing is changing the legal entity that owns it."
The family has converted the property ownership to a limited liability corporation under the Schneeman name, owned by Dan, Mary Jeanne and their seven children.
Plans call for eventually building new cabins further away from Lower Bottle's shoreline, but still in the setback area, necessitating the variance.
Buitenwerf said "it's a very reasonable" plan. The family could have placed nine cabins in the first tier of development and two in the second, he said. The plan as currently envisioned puts eight cabins in the first tier and none in the second tier.
But Carlson objected that some of the new structures would exceed the 50 percent addition allowed in setback areas.
Buitenwerf said that's why a variance asks to build new structures, not renovate the old ones.
Schneemans say the new cabins will resemble the old ones because they want to preserve the look of an older fishing resort.
"We've done everything they told us to," said Mary Jeanne Schneeman after the meeting. Family members were optimistic it would eventually be approved.
"They seemed to be listening to us," Mary Jeanne Schneeman said of the county board.
"We've spent a fortune, have done three surveys and have an attorney involved. What we're doing is extremely reasonable."
The variance issues
Because the PUD proposal needs a variance, Robinson led a forceful push to do nothing and not give any guidance to the Board of Adjustment as to how the county might vote later. He didn't even allow the board a vote to table the issue as Carlson suggested.
"We have never tampered with the Board of Adjustment," he said. "We have them for a reason, their different view protecting the environment We shouldn't politicize their decision."
But Buitenwerf said the county board might be able to condition the CUP on certain items that would affect the variance vote, such as moving buildings or a road to get the new structures out of the setback area.
Schneemans maintain although there is ample land, the septic system and road easement prevent them from moving the cabins to the 100-foot setback. It would also disturb an area that the family wants kept pristine.
The family sold 33 acres on the peninsula to the DNR in 2009, donating 10 percent of the sale proceeds back to the DNR. It is an aquatic wildlife management area.
"From my perspective it looks good to me and I don't care if the Board of Adjustment knows it," Devine said.
"It looks like a good plan to me," echoed commissioner Cal Johannsen.
Buitenwerf said the reason he was trying to steer the proposal through the three boards was to guard against one doing something that was "not congruent" with the others.
"We have that now," Robinson said. "We have to follow the ordinance. They don't," he said of the Board of Adjustment.
Two members of the Coalition of Lake Associations and Doug Kingsley, supervisor of DNR Fisheries, sat in on the county board discussion.
COLA, which is a plaintiff in the Eagle Bay lawsuit against Hubbard County, has two objections to the proposal, president Dan Kittelson said.
The procedural objection is that "we have no business being here today," said COLA member Ed Mutsch. "They're supposed to give the Board of Adjustment some guidance? Give me a break."
Kittelson said when the various boards get done whittling away at the variances that could apply, the shoreline ordinances themselves will be meaningless at the end.
"They keep nibbling away at these variances," Kittelson said. "Variances are supposed to be for hardships."
COLA, which contributed money toward the habitat purchase price with several lake associations, has concerns about Schneemans preserving the open space between the cabins, the number of docking slips proposed for the small bay and the setback, he said.
But Mutsch said it's the process that is the primary concern now.
"These are three independent bodies with distinct responsibilities," he said of the boards. "There shouldn't be a love-in here."
Kittleson said it was "inappropriate" for each board to feel the other two out as to how each would vote.
"We shouldn't be tainting their decision," Robinson said of the Board of Adjustment. "The last time we did that we got into trouble."